DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions linebacker. AP Images.
The news at the intersection of football and violence against women is never positive. Every season, there are stories about cover-ups in management and a locker room “code of silence” that shields abusers and threatens those who want to speak out. Yet there is one player who is truly a flicker of hope in a desolate landscape.That player is Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy.
The eight-year veteran made news last spring in both words and deeds. In words, he penned an essay for the Players’ Tribune called “Man Up” where he wrote: “The dehumanization and objectification of women are not issues that are specific to male athletes. They are societal problems. But they tend to be more associated with athletes in part because we are often idolized because of our athletic ability. In many ways, we’re considered models of masculinity, which is at the very root of a lot of these issues . . . . I want to use my platform as an NFL linebacker to discuss how we talk about rape and sexual assault—because not enough men are.”
Indeed, Levy pledged to raise the money to test 11,000 abandoned rape kits found in a warehouse and shunted aside by Wayne County prosecutors. Levy’s words were a bracing statement in a world where women are viewed as, in the words of one player, “road beef,” and claims of sexual assault are associated with false accusations and extortion.
I spoke to DeAndre Levy about why he has chosen to make this his cause. He said, “When I was at school, there were a lot of things going on that I never thought to question and I never thought to see as a problem because it was so normalized. There were two specific instances where I would hear guys talking about things that happened, laughing and joking about things that happened, even sharing photos. At the time, as an eighteen-year-old, I never thought to question it. It’s just something that was a part of locker-room culture, if you want to go back to locker-room talk.
“Part of locker-room culture is just sharing wild stories of things that happened, but there are some times where I said, ‘What would I have to do to make sure that something doesn’t continue to happen?’ We can bring people in and try to eliminate the problem and bring justice for the girl.”
Levy is haunted by the memory of his eighteen-year-old self, which animates his desire to act today. “It sticks with me from a guilt standpoint,” he told me. “My lack of understanding, a lack of education as a young person, a young male, my first exposure to this culture shouldn’t be in college because there’s so much bad stuff happening. We need to prepare our boys better so we can go into these situations and know what’s what and what’s not so we can stop things from happening.”
And that, he said, is an important part of why he is writing and speaking out—to educate. “Let’s bring awareness to this,” he said. “Let’s teach our young boys better, instead of just teaching our women what not to do, which is asinine, I think. We have to let our boys know that they’re a part of culture, but they don’t have to be a part of that culture.”
Currently, Levy stands virtually alone among male athletes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we are ever going to eradicate sexual violence, it can’t be that way.
In “Man Up,” Levy wrote, “It’s important for men, especially in a hyper-masculine culture that breeds so many assholes, to stand up and challenge the values that have been passed down to us. This is not just a woman’s problem.”
He got that right.
Dave Zirin is the host of the popular Edge of Sports podcast and the sports editor of The Nation. His latest book is Brazil’s Dance with the Devil.